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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla and Vikas Raj, Senior Investment Analyst and Senior Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

In May, India’s new government, led by Narendra Modi, was elected in a landslide. Popular frustration with the Congress Party’s increasingly ineffectual 10-year reign, made most visible by persistently low GDP growth, allowed for one of the most lopsided victories in Indian history, and the first time a non-Congress candidate had an outright majority in parliament. Wisely, Modi focused his election campaign rhetoric on economic issues and more efficient governance to revive GDP growth. The markets have reacted positively: the bell-weather BSE stock-index is up 20 percent since the start of the year. Two weeks ago, the government finally proposed a budget for the next year – the first real concrete recommendations for the economy since coming to power two months ago.

India is a key market for financial inclusion investors like Accion Venture Lab because of the size, depth, and strength of its entrepreneurial pool, as well as the persistent lack of financial services for the poor. Despite the huge success of microfinance in India, two-thirds of the working-age population lacks a bank account, mobile payments have yet to take off, and access to credit for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) remains abysmal.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

Rwanda has a lot to celebrate in terms of financial inclusion these days. Last week in Kigali the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) hosted a conference in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) commemorating their 50-year anniversary. At the event, titled Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development, NBR Governor John Rwangombwa highlighted the country’s recent rise in access levels, from 48 to 72 percent between 2008 and 2012 across formal and informal providers. Rwanda now has the laudable goal of increasing this figure to 90 percent by 2020. To help it get there, on Friday the World Bank launched a $2.25 million program supporting key financial inclusion areas for the country.

Along with overall exclusion rates dropping from 52 to 28 percent over 2008 to 2012, formal services access increased from 21 to 42 percent during the same period, according to the 2012 FinScope Rwanda Survey. The new government goal of 90 percent access by 2020 is an extension of the country’s Maya Declaration Commitment of 80 percent access by 2017. Rwanda’s growth in formal access can be attributed to products offered by both banks and non-bank providers, like the country’s community savings and credit cooperatives known as Umurenge SACCOs. Over the past three years, Umurenge SACCOs have attracted over 1.6 million customers. Ninety percent of Rwandans live within a 5 km radius of one of the cooperatives. Countrywide, the number of MFIs, including Umurenge SACCOs, increased from 125 to 491 between 2008 and December 2013. Elsewhere in the sector, over the last three years, the number of banks increased from 10 to 14, the number of insurance companies increased from 9 to 13, and the number of pension providers increased from 41 to 56.

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> Posted by John Gitau, CEO, Kenya Financial Education Centre

A year ago today, I lost a nephew, John Gachoka. He was 33 years old. As it is our tradition, my family met to make burial arrangements. We drew a tentative funeral budget of $1,870 all expenses inclusive.

John worked in a factory earning a salary of $94 a month ($3 a day). He lived with his family of four (wife and three small children, eldest aged 8) in a single room in a low-income neighborhood, rented for $10.58 a month. He belonged to the bottom of the pyramid.

Characteristic of the warmth that pervades people at the BoP, John’s colleagues joined his neighbors and they drew up a parallel funeral budget in consultation with John’s widow. We, as the larger family, were not aware of another budget until the third day when we joined the colleagues and neighbors meeting. It was time to develop one concrete program.

The chairperson of that committee gave me the budget they had drawn. It read a total of $635, all inclusive expenses, morgue to grave. The budget had all the components we as a family had listed, except that the figures were lower. For example, we had a budget of $295 for the coffin. Their budget for the same was $175. We had a food budget of $300 while theirs was $115. Correctly, they had a similar estimated attendance of 200 people, as we had.

This being a financial inclusion blog space, you must be wondering where a funeral comes in. Please bear with me. There is a grave financial management lesson herein.

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> Posted by Sonja E. Kelly, Fellow, CFI

We are in full World Cup fervor in the Accion offices around the world, with jerseys making appearances at global staff meetings, water cooler conversations centering on surprise advancements (and eliminations), and a high incidence of lingering trips to the conference room screen to check scores in between meetings and deadlines. You could say things are getting a little heated as the group of teams still in the running gets smaller.

There have been a few attempts to use this global competition as an opportunity to better understand our world. The Wall Street Journal published a “World Cup of Everything Else,” where countries can be matched up on categories from the hottest weather to the biggest eaters of seafood, and Dean Karlan produced a set of predictions based on population, poverty level, and interest in soccer to assess which country would experience the greatest increase in happiness with a World Cup victory (spoiler: Nigeria would have had the most aggregate happiness if it had won the tournament).

But what if the World Cup were a competition based on financial inclusion indicators? If we were to create a bracket where the country with the highest level of financial inclusion advanced, the European countries would all advance, which in my opinion wouldn’t be very interesting.

What if, however, we use the World Cup system to see where the highest number of financially excluded people are? We crunched the numbers to show you, of the countries that made it to Brazil for the competition, who would “win” the title of “highest number of financially excluded people.” Basing winners on the countries with the largest number of people without a formal bank account, we noticed a few surprises.
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> Posted by Hema Bansal and Pallavi Sen, the Smart Campaign and MFIN


On June 16th the Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN) was officially recognized as the Self Regulatory Organization (SRO) for non-bank financial company (NBFC) microfinance institutions in India. With this, MFIN not only became the first network to attain such recognition in India, but also in Asia and perhaps in the world.

An SRO is an organization that has been authorized by a statutory regulator or a government agency to exercise control and regulation on its behalf over certain aspects of an industry. Established in 2009, MFIN is an association of NBFC-MFIs acting as their primary representative body. As an SRO, MFIN will essentially support the RBI in ensuring compliance to regulatory prescriptions and the Industry Code of Conduct.

Subsequent to the Andhra Pradesh crisis, the RBI had instituted a subcommittee of the Central Board of the Reserve Bank under the chairmanship of Shri Y. H. Malegam to study issues and concerns in the microfinance sector in India. The committee submitted its report in January 2011, thereby providing concrete recommendations and guidelines for the creation and recognition of microfinance NBFCs in India. Except for setting in place an SRO, all the other recommendations of the committee were implemented by the RBI in 2012. These other guidelines included establishing a credit bureau, the Guidelines on Fair Practices Code for NBFCs, and additional guidelines on loan size, target clientele, interest rates, transparency, collection practices, and multiple lending. With MFIN recognized as an SRO, the RBI is now implementing the last remaining Malegam Committee recommendation.

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> Posted by Siddhartha Chowdri, Program Manager, Disability Inclusion, India, CFI

How does the microfinance community view persons with disabilities (PWD)? This economically disenfranchised population makes up less than one percent of microfinance clients around the world, leaving the vast majority of PWD excluded. Many PWD would benefit from financial services. Yet even the most intense Google, Bing, or Yahoo search will yield almost no in-depth research into how persons with disabilities are perceived among the leaders and staff of microfinance institutions (MFIs). For my focus country of India, no research at all is related to this topic. We hope that a new CFI paper authored by Vipin Gupta of Credit Suisse, Making Microfinance Accessible to Persons with Disabilities: Awareness and Attitudes Among Indian Microfinance Institutions, will be the starting point for more research and action in this area.

Annapurna Staff Members and v-shesh Researcher with Focus Group Discussion Participants, Odisha

Over the last two years CFI has been working with three leading Indian MFIs – Equitas, ESAF, and Annapurna – to refine and develop tools that institutions across the world can use to make themselves more accessible to PWD. CFI also partnered with v-shesh, an India-based social enterprise with expertise in disability inclusion. At the start of this work, CFI and v-shesh decided to conduct research on the existing environments at these MFIs. The purpose of this research was two-fold:

  1. Learn which areas related to disability inclusion should be emphasized during the planned trainings and accessibility audits.
  2. Establish a baseline understanding of the existing views of disability inclusion at the MFIs for subsequent monitoring of changes.

Last November, the v-shesh team surveyed hundreds of MFI staff at all levels as well as MFI clients – both with disabilities and without. They also conducted intensive focus group discussions to gather additional qualitative information to prepare for the trainings.

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> Posted by Jeffrey Riecke, Communications Associate, CFI

What’s the percentage of MFI clients worldwide that are LGBT? How about the percentage of staff at MFIs? Broader yet, how inclusive is the financial services industry of queer and trans people?

As you’d probably guess, concrete answers to these questions aren’t available. And even raising the issue is controversial in many countries. Over the past year anti-gay legislation was enacted in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India. The notion of financial institutions working towards LGBT-inclusive operations is far off in many countries.

But here in the U.S. (and in other areas worldwide) change is happening, as demonstrated at the Out on the Street Summit last week in New York City. The event, part of the Out on the Street initiative, featured senior leadership from some of the largest financial services providers in the world, including Michael Corbat, CEO of Citigroup, and Ajay Banga, President and CEO of MasterCard. Held on May 1, the event focused on business opportunities and leadership strategies for and within the LGBT community, as well as the financial services industry’s role in advancing LGBT equality.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

I was recently asked to give a talk at the University of Pennsylvania’s 8th (!) annual Microfinance Conference. This year’s theme, “Microfinance Beyond Its Roots” set me in search of ways in which the microfinance industry is moving into areas beyond its original microcredit core. Of course, this process has been going on for a long time, and so there are many topics to choose from.

I decided to look at health care, partly because, as every staff member of a microfinance institution knows, health setbacks are one of the most frequent sources of repayment problems among low income clients. As they learned about the health vulnerabilities of their clients, microfinance organizations began to invest in experiments, bringing their businesslike approach to bear on a challenge that is often dealt with in heavily subsidized, non-market ways. Today, many of these programs have matured and grown, even as new ideas are being tested.

I looked among the organizations belonging to the Microfinance CEO Working Group, and I found that nearly all have something exciting going on in health care. Approaches include some combination of direct health care service provision, health insurance coverage, and education. Many are using technology as a means of reaching people at scale and low cost.

The meetings associated with group lending provide a convenient and cost-effective platform for health services, and adding a health component to group microcredit is probably the earliest and most widespread model. Health education was perhaps the starting point, as pioneered by Freedom from Hunger and also implemented by Opportunity International. Today the services often reach farther (while health education continues to be important). ProMujer, for example, directly employs nurses and other health practitioners to staff fixed and mobile clinics available to ProMujer members. They focus on maternal and reproductive health, as well as screening for the chronic diseases that are increasingly major health issues in Latin America. Hundreds of thousands of women get access to health care through ProMujer’s efforts.

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> Posted by Center Staff

It’s common knowledge in the United States that the student loan situation is bad and getting worse, but what are the actual statistics and how severe is this trend? Like other kinds of debt, student debt has innumerable implications for young borrowers, as well as for the country’s recovering economy.

A new report from the New America Foundation inspects undergraduate student loan debt data from the past ten years, compiling borrower rates and amounts, in aggregate and by institution and degree type. The report, The Student Debt Review, draws from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Studies, a national survey series of student financial aid. Here are some of the report’s main findings:

  • More students are indebted. Across all institution and degree types, the percentage of graduates with debt increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 62 percent in 2012. In 2004 there were 1.6 million graduates with debt. By 2012 there were 2.4 million.
  • They owe more. Total student loan debt increased by an average of $3,300 between 2008 and 2012 after a period of four years in which it changed only marginally (2004-2008).
  • For-profit colleges are a sore spot. Student debt is increasing especially quickly for bachelor’s degree recipients at private for-profit colleges, who now graduate with an average debt of $40,000 and pay $153 more each month than those graduating with bachelor’s degrees at public colleges. A very high proportion of the bachelor’s degree graduates at private for-profit colleges have borrowed (87 percent), compared to public colleges (64 percent).

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> Posted by Center Staff

PCMA CEO Abeer Odeh and PMA Governor Jihad Al Wazir

Last week Palestinian government officials announced plans to create a national financial inclusion strategy, an initiative that would put it on a short list of two countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that have nationwide, government-led inclusion plans (Morocco being the other).

The Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) and the Palestine Capital Markets Authority (PCMA), the country’s central bank and a national regulating body will co-lead the project along with support from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) and other public and private groups.

The policies and guidelines of the strategy will aim to facilitate greater access, improve awareness and financial education, and reinforce client protection. An area inviting particular attention is access to credit, which is low for both individuals and SMSEs. The strategy will build on inclusion principles endorsed by the G20, World Bank, AFI, and the OECD Principles on National Strategy for Financial Education.

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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